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Wage wars: Workers for, business against a hike

A group in favor of a minimum wage increase held this sign at a public forum last week in the Common Council Chambers.

A group in favor of a minimum wage increase held this sign at a public forum last week in the Common Council Chambers. Photo by Neil Benjamin Jr..

It’s old news that there is a proposal in front of New York state to push the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50, which is an approximately 17-percent increase.

For workers earning minimum, this is music to their ears.

But for business owners, this could spell disaster to their bottom line.

On April 24, the New York State Assembly’s Standing Committee on Labor held a public hearing at the Common Council Chambers in City Hall which began at 1 p.m. and was chaired by Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, of the 70th District in Harlem.

It featured a full line of speakers: minimum wage workers, community activists, business activists and religious figures. Some told stories of trying to make life work with a family while being close to or making the minimum wage; others business leaders who feel such a great increase will have a negative effect on companies and the economy as a whole.

Supporters

Jerry Dennis, president of SEIU Local 200 United, was among the first few to give his opinion to Wright and Assemblymen Sam Roberts and William Magnarelli. As president of a union, he said he is fully in support of raising the wage, and gave quite a few examples why.

For one, he described Syracuse as a city that struggles everyday because of increasing poverty. He cited layoffs in the school systems, as well as public sector layoffs, as proof to back his statement. Employers, he said, take advantage of workers. A full-time worker making minimum wage isn’t above the poverty level of $22,350, the federal definition of poverty. A minimum wage worker at 40 hours a week comes out to $15,080, a significant amount less than what the government describes as poverty.

“The perception is that it’s all college kids or casual employees working these jobs,” Dennis said. “That’s not the case. Most of these workers are hard workers who are providing for their famlies.”

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